Faculty climate survey shows most satisfied but room for improvement

Nov. 14, 2013

by Käri Knutson

A 2012 “Study of Faculty Worklife” at UW-Madison shows that although most report having positive experiences on campus, satisfaction and climate for several minority groups were lower than in a previous study.

A little more than 1,000 faculty members — about half — responded to the spring 2012 survey conducted by the Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI). Similar surveys had been done in 2010, 2006 and 2003. The results reported include tenured and tenure-track faculty at UW-Madison; a separate report for clinical faculty will be released soon.

“Ensuring that the working environment is as positive as it can be for everyone improves morale, job satisfaction, and ultimately retention and productivity,” says Jennifer Sheridan, executive and research director at WISELI. “Understanding which elements of climate are less satisfying, and which groups experience climate differently, can help campus leadership focus their efforts to make maximum change.”

Survey responses were compared using several variables to get a better idea of the specific climate for certain groups, including gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, untenured and divisional affiliation.

“We want to have an environment where people feel good about the work they’re doing and feel appreciated,” says Steve Stern, vice provost for faculty and staff. “It is something we will always hope to improve upon.”

Four major areas were surveyed: hiring, departmental climate, diversity issues at UW-Madison and satisfaction with UW-Madison.

One of the overall top areas of dissatisfaction was related to research support in 2010, while the 2012 survey showed that discord in state politics was a top issue.

The faculty as a whole reported a fairly positive personal experience of climate. The 2012 results barely changed, with 87.6 percent of respondents saying they felt often or very often respected by colleagues, compared to 88.8 percent in 2010. For faculty of color, 80 percent responded that they felt often or very often respected by colleagues, down from 89 percent in 2010.

Women faculty were somewhat less satisfied with climate on virtually all measures for the 2012 survey compared to 2010, although for women faculty in the biological and physical sciences, those gaps have been decreasing over time. Additionally, faculty of color were less satisfied in several areas, including being treated with less respect by colleagues and chairs, feeling excluded from an informal departmental network, and feeling isolated both within their departments and on the UW-Madison campus. Faculty of color also reported feeling that they had to work much harder to be perceived as legitimate scholars. 

"We know climate satisfaction can be uneven for certain groups," Stern says. "We're mindful when doing this that there are others who think the climate is wonderful. There is a positive value in educating everyone that climate satisfaction is uneven and communicating how we can do better." 

Gay and Lesbian faculty fit less well in their departments in 2010 than heterosexual/bisexual faculty, and rated their overall department climate as less positive, but not significantly so. By 2012, gay and lesbian faculty were significantly less likely to say they “fit” compared to their peers, and gave a significantly less positive rating of their department climate.

“LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff contribute at every level and role at UW-Madison, so it is important that we are doing everything that we can to help the institution live up to its full commitment to all members of our community,” says Gabriel Javier, assistant dean of students and director of the LGBT Campus Center. “The LGBT Campus Center and its partners have been working hard to ensure that there is a web of support for LGBTQ people across campus, knowing that we still have a ton of work to do.”

Several ongoing efforts have the goal of improving the overall environment on campus, especially regarding diversity. An Ad Hoc Diversity Planning Committee (AHDPC) was formed in February in response to a charge set out by the University Committee to the Committee on Diversity and Campus Climate (CDCC). A team of campus and community members has been developing a framework for guiding, shaping and strengthening UW-Madison’s commitment to inclusive excellence and innovation. Engagement sessions were held on campus earlier this month, inviting all of campus to provide feedback and ideas.

“We’re happy people participated in this climate survey and we encourage continued engagement with the process already underway,” says Patrick Sims, interim chief diversity officer. “My approach is to have a more personal touch and let people know we’re here and willing to listen.”

In addition, the Human Resources Design Project includes all of campus in the process of creating a better personnel system. Numerous informational sessions have been held, with future opportunities to provide input scheduled.

Most recently, a committee to create more civility and a healthier workplace is being led by School of Human Ecology Dean Soyeon Shim and Wisconsin School of Business Dean François Ortalo-Magné.

The survey was funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Office of the Provost, School of Medicine and Public Health, College of Letters & Science, and Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI).